• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar

Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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This Will Be On The Quiz

Gale took not just the remaining of my set of swords, but also the one I had already hefted, holding them both up in front of her eyes in telekinetic grip and observing them with a practiced eye. "These are really nice. Really nice. Perfect balance… the pommel isn't some fucking huge gem like everypony seems to make these days."

"They're the Bane of Topaz." The voice, which turned everypony in the gathering's eyes, belonged to the indefatigably cheerful Chancellor Puddinghead. "Well, one of them is, anyway, but sort of like our couple of Mortys wandering around, it's part of the point that you can't tell."

I felt very out-of-the-loop when virtually every unicorn in my presence (including a few who had wandered closer since the end of Cherry's challenge) winced or recoiled or slightly hung their heads.

"These are named swords?" I asked Gale. "What do they do?"

"They cut stuff," Gale explained. "Not every sword with a name is enchanted."

"Why would you name a mundane hunk of metal?"

"Because one of them killed my great-great-great-ish grandpa." Gale tossed the two blades in the air—letting go of them with her telekinesis entirely—and then magically caught them by their blades to offer both to (one of) me, grips first.

Gasps rang out in the room. I glanced across the faces, trying to figure out what enormous faux pas had been committed, but near as I could tell, Gale hadn't actually done anything wrong.

Gale grinned. "Since they're your swords, I'd usually get first pick. But since you obviously don't know what you're doing, I'll yield the first pick to you."

"Um… alright." I grabbed the one on my right in (candlecorn) telekinesis, finding myself surprised at just how light the blade was. "First blood, or—"

"No!" Gale snapped. "Do you have any idea how cursed that would be? We'll ward them. I—oh, you probably have no idea how to do that… Damn it; I keep assuming you know about fighting."

"Perhaps I can offer Coil some assistance?" High Castle offered, stepping up to my side.

Gale nodded, before turning her attention to casting some spell on her blade.

"I apologize, Coil," Castle whispered beside me. "If I had known this was Topaz' Bane, I would have stopped you before you brought them out."

"Why should that matter, if they aren't even magical?"

"According to legend, the swords are cursed,"the noblestallion replied, as if a non-magical curse even made sense. (If one is being very philosophical, and has a strong grasp of psychology, there is an argument that the idea isn't without merit, but I mean my terms literally here). "When the Low Valleys—that is, the earth pony government—came together to resist King Topaz' attempts to conquer them a few hundred years ago, the earth ponies elected a leader named Apple Pie to oppose us."


"Well, the Diamond Kingdoms back then, but you get my point." As he spoke, Castle wrapped his magical aura around the shaft of my blade (get your mind out of the gutter). "Topaz wasn't exactly the equal of an Amethyst or a Tourmaline, if you catch my meaning, and the war turned sour. After a few embarrassing defeats and Chancellor Pie raiding and salting a number of unicorn farming domains—which were already stretched to their limit without open trade from Amber Field and the earth ponies—the Stable, and even Topaz' own son, pushed for him to accept earth pony independence and make peace. But Topaz refused to give up and live with the dishonor of losing to an army that didn't even have magic at its disposal. So when he marched his army on Amber Field itself, rather than suffering huge losses on both sides in a prolonged siege, Apple Pie offered the king a duel. A unicorn duel. Topaz accepted, thinking there was no way an earth pony could beat him holding a sword in his mouth like a peasant."

I raised a brow. "Apple Pie won?"

"According to legend, he blocked Topaz' sword with the steel of his shoe, and then stomped it out of his grip. By the time the king picked the sword back up, Pie had closed the distance. That's how King Lapis I took the throne."

"Wait, Lapis the first? And Gale's grandpa was Lapis the fourth? This was that recent?"

"Well, the four King Lapises weren't back-to-back. But it wasn't that long ago in the grand scheme of things." His spellwork done, Castle released the sword to me once more. "Be careful; warding the blade makes it even more slippery to magic than normal steel."


The question seemed not to register, so Castle simply repeated himself. "The blade will be even more slippery to your telekinesis than steel."

"Steel is supposed to be slippery to magic?"

Castle looked at me like I'd grown a second head and nodded slowly. "That's why swords have grips, coil. And why nobleponies use silver utensils to eat, and commoners prefer pewter even though it's a touch slippery… you are a wizard, aren't you?"

"I guess it never… bothered me before. I do have an unusually strong magical grip."

"Well, maybe you can pull a stunt like Her Majesty and catch a spinning sword by its blade, then. But I wouldn't try it if the sword is coming at your face." Shaking his head for a moment, the young Duke finished his earlier thought thusly. "The swords are said to be cursed to kill unicorn monarchs; in addition to King Topaz, Topaz' Bane was also used to slay the Bloody Queen, Iron Maiden. Hence Her Majesty's insistence to ward the blades instead of going for first blood and risking an accidental cut going too deep: frankly, she's brave to even take you up on this duel."

"Eh, it's superstition," I countered. "I promise, she'll be fine."

"Very well." Castle took a bold step back. "Coil, by tradition, you exchange swords with your opponent after warding them, so if anything goes wrong, you have nopony to blame but yourself. Your Majesty, are you ready?"

Through our talk, Gale had been idly spinning her copy of the blade in the air, apparently getting used to its weight, its shape, and its speed. The address caught her off guard, though even as her body shook in surprise, her weapon never wavered. "Oh, yeah. Sure." She spun the blade around to once more offer the grip to me (this time without throwing and catching it) and I offered her the same courtesy. For just a moment as we traded grips, our magical auras mingled together, and I grinned at the tingling even as Gale flashed me rather forward blinks of her eyelids.

"Ready to get your ass handed to you, Morty?"

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Your Majesty. There's a shortage of perfect flanks in the world, and it would be a shame to ruin mine."

"First to three points?" Gale asked with a grin.

"Points?" I asked. Then, when Gale opened her mouth to explain, I thrust forward and struck her shoulder. "And one."

"You little asshole!" Gale dodged a second attack by fully teleporting out of the way of another thrust, landing on my banister and grinding down it on the edges of her hooves (much to Vow's chagrin), before hopping down onto the ground floor. "I was going to go easy on you, but you fucking asked for it."

Now, while I do intend to tell this story from my own perspective (as usual), I should apologize in advance that the narration which follows is a bit corporeally detached.

"That wasn't exactly sporting of you," High Castle observed at my side, as we both watched other-me begin a brisk but hardly rushed approach down the stairs after Gale. "Usually, you get a neutral party to count down or give a signal. Or at least one of you does it aloud, slowly."

"Oh?" I shrugged. "Call it a handicap then. The last time I held a sword, I dropped it through the floor."

"I beg your pardon—through?"

"It was Hurricane's sword; I took it from Gale, though I didn't know who she was at the time." My idle reflections were interrupted by the sound of steel clashing together. "How does one actually do this? I mean, I assume there's some technique beyond 'put the sharp bit in the other pony'?"

"You want a lesson in the middle of the fight?"

When we were finally close enough, I parried a swift overhead slash from Gale's blade—though 'parried' might be a generous term, since I held my sword completely perpendicular to hers, and instead of bouncing off at an angle, they simply pressed against each other for a moment before she finally lifted her blade away deliberately.

"If you're worried I'm using you to cheat, Castle, don't be. If I close my eyes and transfer my thoughts, that body will stand stock still too, and she'll score a point. I just want to learn to appreciate what I'm seeing."

"You are absolutely surreal to talk to," Castle muttered, before gesturing with a hoof. "Okay, see here. There's three primary ways to lose a fencing duel."

I knocked a thrust from Gale aside, and found myself frowning when my sword moving straight toward her was slower than the arc of her sword looping back around to once more separate her body from my blade. She grinned at the sound of the next clash of steel.

"The easiest way to lose a duel is to lose your hoofing. It's an easy trap to fall into to only think of the swords, but there's four moving parts in a duel, and if you stand stock still the whole time, you'll be hit the moment a blade slips past the other's guard. You're especially vulnerable there, since you're the stronger horn, and it can be tempting to try and just force your way forward to win—but that's a swift path to defeat, not victory."

The latter comment there might have started as abstract advice, but it became quickly apparent from the duel we were watching that it was a bit more descriptive than I would have preferred. On the floor, Gale hopped backwards with only a scant backwards glance onto the dining table (sending Vow's rare elkish breads scattering off of their platter, though thankfully not across the floor) even as she guarded against my progressing attacks. My pace was slower, moving forward but letting the gap between us grow rather than try to keep up with her swifter hoofwork. I was surprised each time our blades met that I was proving the stronger duelist, given rather than my (enormous) natural horn's strength, I was using a candlecorn—perfectly capable of casting many spells, but hardly the titans of magic that any practiced horn could bring to bear.

I swung next at Gale's hooves, given her torso was now above where I was most comfortable holding my sword—for non-unicorns, just like a shoulder, a horn has certain places relative to the horn where it's less strenuous to hold things. Gale responded by stomping on the lip of a platter of olive and cheese canapés—simultaneously bringing up the metal platter to block my sword, and flinging a good number of hors d'oeuvres into my face. As I batted away the snacks, a hoof caught a bit of bread on the marble floor, and while I managed not to collapse onto my tail, Gale's blade graced my right cheek in my confusion.

"Since we aren't playing clean, I assume you don't object,"

I dragged a hoof across my eyes, flicked it to dispose of a bit of ooze, and assumed a ready stance again. "Be careful what you wish for."

As the dance began again, High Castle chuckled beside me. "Case in point. The second way to lose is to lose your grip on your sword… that is, to unintentionally lose your grip on your sword."

"Unintentionally? As opposed to what, throwing it?"

"Yes, actually. And then catching it."


"Maybe it isn't true for an esteemed wizard, but most unicorns can throw something faster than they can move it through the air while maintaining continual telekinesis. But also, there is a… well, that."

That was in reference to the battle below; Gale met my blade and twisted hers with a flourish, drawing a sort of spiral pattern around the rigid length (she would laugh, so you might as well indulge yourself) of mine. The motion produced quite a lot of torque on my blade—so much so that, had I held a lesser grip, it might have been ripped from my telekinesis. As it stood, I found both blades much closer to my face and further from hers as we recoiled and crashed together with three more swift strikes and parries in the span of fewer seconds.

In that moment, I had the clever idea to return Gale's ploy her direction. When our blades clashed next, I twisted. And to my immense satisfaction, the motion worked perfectly, ripping Gale's blade away so that her magic sputtered out and the weapon flew through the air over my left shoulder.

I was halfway to tapping her throat when I felt the blade on my neck, and while I considered for a moment that the blow would have bounced on my real neck (given that bit of my neck was covered in transparent silver), I elected not to push the point.

"Two," Gale noted, going so far as to tap away my oncoming blade with the back of her hoof. "I kind of expected better from you."

"Well, let's see if I can't entertain you, then…" The candlecorn who was me removed his jacket, but rather than setting it aside, he draped it over his foreleg not unlike a matador's cape (albeit only trimmed in red). With a flare of my candle-horn strong enough to briefly reveal the flame beneath the half-illusion of my own face, I shifted my hind legs to set myself to balance on only three hooves, and nodded. "We can begin."

Watching from the gallery above, ponies gathered around (other) me.

"What kind of dueling style is this?"

"What did you cast, master?"

"Isn't the jacket kind of cheating?"

That last one was Diadem, and I deigned to answer her question first. "That isn't my jacket. It's one of Vow's I found in a closet. You can tell when I put it back on; it's a little short on the cuffs. I don't know what the spell is any more than you all do. I could offer a guess… but that's hardly as fun as a surprise."

Down below us, Gale rushed at me, clashing her blade into mine with enough force that sparks soared through the air. I stepped back, making only the feeblest of efforts to keep her assault at bay and gladly trading ground for safety.

When Gale moved forward with her own body, hopping down from the table, I struck. Tilting my raised foreleg downward a couple of degrees was a subtle gesture, a minor thing. But when I dipped my hoof, my foe—the Queen of Equestria herself—went flying as if flung sideways across the room. When her shoulder struck the floor, she continued to slide, until her back slammed against the west wall of the room.

My hooves slid too, as the floor got steeper—or rather, as up changed around. But while I lacked Gale's balance, I had the advantage of advance warning, so rather than fumbling my blade, I lashed out at her in her slide. Only a pop of teleportation saved her from the touch of steel, and when she reappeared, she again stumbled before coming to rest shakily on all four hooves… halfway up my wall.

"Hey! You can't cast spells on me!" Gale snapped as she once more readied her blade.

"I haven't," I answered, walking along a structural plaster pillar in Cirran style, halfway embedded in the wall. "Not directly, anyway. I could demonstrate by making the entire room's gravity change, but I only just got the house and it'd be a shame to tear it down—even if it would make your sister happy."

In the gallery, High Castle turned from watching the battle to look at the closer me. "How are you doing that?"

"It's just gravity redirection." I shrugged. "It's not actually a very interesting spell; intricate to cast, but hardly complex."

When Gale lashed out again, I matched my parry with another shift in my foreleg. This time, I didn't go as far as changing the entire orientation of gravity, but I did jerk Gale's legs out from under her. The effect was as Castle had promised, almost. Gale's grip on her sword once again faltered, and I took that momentary advantage to attack. She answered by hurling herself bodily up the wall (which was downhill from our perspectives), sliding on her side until her back hit the ceiling.

I let out a taunting chuckle and continued my assault. The clashing point of our weapons grew closer and closer to her face, and when she started to rise to her hooves, I hung my foreleg fully downwards and shifted gravity so that the ceiling was not just beside us, but below.

Watching from the gallery (now with heads craned) the audience were treated to the sight of Gale scrambling away, jumping and dodging as she tried to buy a spare moment to recollect her balance and her stance, as I pressed forward with no quartet to give. Brilliantly, bravely, she jumped from the ceiling onto the underside of the room's central chandelier. While her sudden approach made the metal ring that held the dangling enchanted crystals (which lit the rom) sway and bob, because the structure itself was heavier than she was (and it still experienced normally oriented gravity), the net effect was not all that different to standing on a floating dock or off-center on a boat.

"Not much good ground there?" I asked.

"Doesn't matter," said Gale answered, panting. "As long as you…" She breathed violently pulling her sword closer than she had intended after mine got past her guard. "...think you're winning."


Gale nodded, and then outright flung her sword at my head. The arc was strange, given I hadn't actually changed gravity on the swords but just our bodies, and so while it might have been intimidating to somepony standing directly below us (and nopony was), it wasn't much threat to me. Satisfied the frame of refrence shift had tricked her, I drove my blade for her heart.

Gale caught the oncoming sword with her hoof. That is, she punched the sword on its bladed edge with the keratin of her hoof, so that even if it hadn't been warded, the cut wouldn't have drawn blood. (Aside to future readers: unless you're Gale's equal in swordplay (you aren't), don't try this with a bare hoof against an un-warded sword. You might block it… but you're more likely to shear your hoof in half.) As I tried to twist my blade, Gale lit her horn—and rather than grab her sword at range, she popped out of existence on the underside of the chandelier altogether. With another pop, the very same second, she reappeared 'up above me', in midair oriented upside down halfway between the floor of the tall foyer of the Mausoleum and its ceiling. There, she snatched her sword not with magic, but in her teeth. To this day, I have no idea how she managed to get her teeth on the grip, spinning as it was through the air.

Gravity pulled her upward so that she fell down upon the crown of my head, and despite the warding of the sword's sharp edges, the force of her body behind the weapon was enough to cleave through the wax that made up my horn.

"Three," Gale said, and then paused in confusion and concern when I didn't reply—staring blankly forward.

Perhaps it should have come as some concern that the severed 'wick' of my horn fell the correct down. But a moment later, with unsurprising inevitability, the Equestrian Queen felt a similar lurch of weightlessness as her hooves left the ceiling and her world reoriented itself as she fell toward the floor two stories below.

Her fall was, mercifully, ended by the embrace of warm forelegs rather than a painful, probably fatal collision between neck and ground.

"Congratulations, Your Majesty," my real body told her, resisting the urge to complain about the enormous pain that my slender shoulders had endured in bracing her impact, despite the aid of subtle telekinesis from my other candlecorn helping to ease the burden. "Well fought." Thinking myself suave, having the mare in my forelegs, I dipped her foreshoulders down and leaned forward in aim for a brief, chaste kiss.

Gale had other ideas. With a hind leg, she swept my own legs out from under me, and it was her turn to catch my weight (given she didn't cheat with telekinesis, I was surprised she was strong enough; though undeniably thin, I was a fair bit larger than her). "Uh-uh," she corrected. "I won, asshole." And then she gave me a kiss that was… shall we say less than chaste.

Perhaps a moment later, a huge pile of loose candle wax slapped with a disgusting slurping noise onto the floor, absolutely obliterating a dining chair that happened to have been placed unfortunately.

"Oh crap," said Gale.

"It's fine. They're not that hard to put back together." I demonstrated a firm lack of abdominal strength when I failed to pull myself upward from the awkward position I held with only one hind leg on the ground, my back resting on Gale's right foreleg, and then rolled off her sideways to get my hooves back under me. "Well… hopefully that made you feel better?"

Gale was taken aback by the question, and broke into a rich laugh against her own better judgment. "Yeah. Yeah, that was a hell of a time."

Up in the gallery, as ponies slowly, tentatively approached to congratulate the Queen for her show in the competition, another of me leaned over to Castle. "Is the third way to lose the other pony just being better?"

"Well, that certainly is a factor," the suitor stallion answered. "But the third classic mistake for beginners is letting the other pony and their weapon get bodily between you and your weapon." Then, clearly not intending the cognitive link but implying it heavily regardless, he lifted a roughly skull-sized wooden mallet we had also found while searching for dueling swords. "Shall I gather a group for a more reasonable game? Croquette?"

Author's Note:

12-5 will be delayed until 2/21, due to Valentines plans that will have me away from my keyboard.

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